In January 1977 we entered room 205 for another Monday of third grade and found a substitute teacher sitting behind the desk. Mrs. Delaney, our regular teacher, would be out sick for the following five weeks as she recovered from emergency gall bladder surgery. Even at age 9 I found this a little surprising since Mrs. Delaney was a young woman. Young pretty teachers don’t get sick. Old people have problems with their gall bladder. She was recently married, in fact, before our class had begun in September she was known as Miss Heilig. She was a pretty blonde woman and she had a tolerance of my odd ways. She accepted the fact that I would speed through every piece of homework and exam at warp speed. She never scolded me for turning in my paper first. She couldn’t figure out why I added numbers the way I did but it worked and she let me do it that way.
Quick aside: posed with a question like “8+7”, I would adjust it to a 10 before blurting out “15”. So in little competitive games to see who could add the fastest, she would say “8+7” and I would yell out “8+7, 9+6, 10+5, 15”. This would bewilder my competitor and while they were trying to count sticks in their head or whatever, I was whipping through this rapid, machine-gun way of adding and I would win a chocolate bar. That was always nifty. This trend sticks with me today.
Anyway, Mrs. Delaney was out sick and behind the desk sat Mrs. Davis. She wore a dress. Her old lady hair was quite red with some help and in the perfect old lady style. Though she retired many years ago she had a reputation throughout the district, young and old, as a taskmistress. She put up with no bunk. She did not tolerate a lack of obedience. Students will keep their desks neat and tidy. Mrs. Delaney had an unused paddle emblazoned with “Board of Education” hanging alongside the chalk board. Mrs. Davis didn’t need such a thing, she just slammed the ruler down if there was any sort of lack of attention. WAP! Even the most misbehaved boy in our class, another boy named John, who in later years would spend some time in prison, wept at the thought of Mrs. Davis teaching for an undetermined amount of time. I just did what I was told.
Mrs. Davis was known as “Dynamite Davis”. The woman could explode. She had a raspy yell that garnered the attention of people within a five mile radius. Even my dad and aunt talked about Dynamite Davis and they had been out of school for many years. The woman was a local legend.
I ran into Dynamite Davis years after I graduated from high school and had a pleasant conversation with her on a Sunday evening in a local restaurant. In elementary school she terrified me (but inspired me to stay the honor student I was at the time) and she was no nonsense but like Mrs. Delaney, she rode with me on my little idiosyncrasies and encouraged me to do what I needed to do to get to the right answer. She never scolded me for being the first one to turn in an exam or quiz. She had a hard look and a scary voice but she was alright. When we chatted years later she remembered me, my aunt and my dad and she had a nice old-lady smile. Like many teachers, she remembered details. “You always watched that clock.”
Inexplicably I enjoyed a very vivid dream about her last night. Like many of my dreams of people that have passed on, it felt uncannily real, she encouraged me to continue to do my best and smirked about the way I still add in my head. (The 8+7, 9+6, 10+5 15 routine drives Earl crazy). We had a normal conversation. I could smell her perfume. Her voice had softened slightly. She told me she doesn’t understand what schools are doing today with our youth and that we need to get back to a more disciplined environment in school districts. I asked her if we could take a selfie together so I could show the community that she is quite happy on The Other Side. She agreed, we laughed, we posed together and of course I couldn’t get my iPhone to work. That always happens when I try to take a selfie in a dream.
I woke up with my iPhone in my hand, camera activated. I was still smiling. The scent of Dynamite’s perfume was dissipating rapidly.
Who knew that the famous Dynamite Davis could make me smile?